Wales’ reality check

The Springboks don’t lose to Wales in South Africa. And they won’t start losing in 2008.

keo-wales.pngWe heard the same story when Eddie O’Sullivan’s Irish team arrived in South Africa in 2004 as the favourites to beat Jake White’s young Springboks. As White said at the time, it was ludicrous to believe a Bok team could lose to Ireland in Bloemfontein. He was proved right when the Boks smashed the far more experienced and supposedly in-form Irish.

Now it is the turn of Wales to talk a big game ahead of their two Tests in South Africa in June. For those with short memories, let me remind you that the Boks even managed a two-Test series win against Wales in South Africa when Rudolf Straeuli was coaching them. I reiterate the point that the Springboks don’t lose to Wales in this country.

Wales, poor at the World Cup, are talking of new dawns under New Zealand coach Warren Gatland. They are optimistic because they won the Six Nations and went unbeaten. But the same players who dominated the northern hemisphere’s premier competition were those who got a drubbing at home against the Springboks only last November. The Boks in that Test had to do without six of their World Cup final stars and, further, had the luxury of only two training sessions in the month that preceded the Test. Yet they arrived in Wales on the Sunday and six days later whipped them.

Come on. Wales can’t win in South Africa this June because their players aren’t physical enough, aren’t mentally strong enough and all-round simply are not good enough.

Wales won a Six Nations championship in which the standard of rugby was piss poor. They beat an out-of-sorts England team, sneaked past an Ireland side devoid of all confidence, comfortably dealt with a French team whose new coach inexplicably used the Six Nations as an experimental stage and breezed past the courageous but limited Italians.

The Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies would also have completed an unbeaten run in the Six Nations. Argentina, who finished third at the World Cup, would have come close to doing something similar. And the likes of a full-strength Fiji, Tonga and Samoa would have won more than they lost.

It is not fair to say that when Wales win the Six Nations the standard is inadequate and when France win it they’re a quality side. The standard in the past few years has not been up to much, and the dominance of the southern hemisphere over the northern hemisphere has vindicated this opinion.

Sure, England and France poxed wins against Australia and New Zealand at the World Cup, but over a sustained period of time south has battered north, home and away. Wales, for all the bravado, have never travelled well to the likes of South Africa, New Zealand and France. They’ve also battled in Argentina. I don’t dispute Gatland’s qualities and have huge respect for what Shaun Edwards has achieved in rugby union, both at Wasps and in his short term with Wales.

A coach is only as good as his players, and all Wales can hope for in South Africa is respectability and competitiveness. At home, later in the year, they will be a different proposition. In our winter and at our stadiums they remain a soft touch – even with our players forced to play the old rules again.

This column first appeared in the May issue of SA Rugby magazine.